DEARBORN — A lawsuit to remove State Rep. Sylvia Santana from the ballot in her run for the third State Senate district this primary election is moving to the Michigan Court of Appeals, after a Wayne County Circuit Judge ruled in Santana’s favor on March 29.
The seat is currently held by State Sen. Morris Hood and encompasses Dearborn, Melvindale and portions of Detroit.
The suit, filed by Dearborn resident Michael Bsharah, challenges Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert Colombo Jr.’s ruling that Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett has no power to determine Santana’s eligibility to run.
Bsharah had raised concerns to the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections and the Wayne County Clerk’s Election Division on May 2 that Santana had not paid $2,000 in fees from her 2017 campaign for the ninth district, before filing to run this year. The Secretary of State’s Office notified her campaign of the dues last October and December.
But in a victory for Santana, Garrett responded three weeks after Bsharah filed the complaint, saying the candidate had completed all required paperwork and that “Michigan law does not give the County Clerk investigative powers to determine the truth or falsity of a candidate’s affirmation” in the campaign finance report or affidavit of identity.
Election law states that all requirements for affidavits of identity, including ensuring all statements, reports, late filing fees and fines required of the candidate or candidate committee, have been filed or paid and need to be completed for candidates’ names to appear on the ballot.
The affidavits also include disclaimers that making a false statement is punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to five years’ imprisonment.
Santana signed and submitted the affidavit on January 12, but it wasn’t until 11 days later that a “campaign finance fee credit” showed that the payment was received by the election bureau.
Bsharah’s complaint also charged that in Santana’s campaign finance report, filed eight days after she paid her dues on January 23, the payment was backdated to Dec. 6, when the Secretary of State sent the December notice.
“It could be alleged from these facts that she knew her candidate affidavit was in trouble and falsely listed the $2,000 payment as being made in December in hopes of disguising the error,” Bsharah said in a statement.
Santana welcomed the County Clerk’s decision and responded to the challenge, saying it’s merely a “disgraceful” attempt by a locally “known political operative” with close ties to her opponent, Wayne County Commissioner Gary Woronchak’s campaign to suppress voters.
“This challenge is an attempt to disqualify me from ballot access and thereby disenfranchising 260,000 citizens of their constitutional right to vote,” Santana said in a statement. “To this attempt I say, leading a voter suppression effort is no way to win an election on the weekend of the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner.”
She went on to say that she had no knowledge of outstanding fees when she signed the affidavit and said she immediately paid her dues after being notified by the Secretary of State on Jan. 23.
Santana defended her record in Lansing for standing up for democratic values and efforts that helped reduce auto insurance rates and protect victims of sexual assault. She criticized Woronchak, a former Republican state representative, for a bad voting record against Detroit and “failed leadership” that she said led to an abandoned jail that nearly bankrupted the county.
“It takes more than a high-powered law firm and a technicality to take me out,” Santana said.
Bsharah dismissed Santana’s assertion about voter suppression as “ridiculous, political fantasy.”
“Voters have the right to expect that candidates obey the law and be legally eligible to be on the ballot,” he said. “Any claims that this challenge is an affront to voters is desperate, political rhetoric to distract from the facts of the challenge, and the violations of law by Ms. Santana.”
In a May 2 statement, Woronchak echoed Bsharah’s sentiments and supported his challenge.
“Our campaign finance and election laws apply to all candidates, and all must follow the same rules,” Woronchak wrote. “Rep. Santana is well aware of this, given that she filed a complaint with the Secretary of State two years ago because an opponent had failed to include a ‘paid for by’ disclaimer on a brochure.”